The Lord’s Prayer is a fascinating, deeply complex, and surprisingly simple prayer. This series articles pairs a stained glass window from a small church with each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In each post, we will see how the symbols in the window help us to understand what Jesus says to us when he commands us to pray this chief prayer. Check out the previous posts in this series:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Look up our selection of Lord’s Prayer jewelry to remind you of this wonderful prayer.
Why is forgiveness so hard? Why do families fight for years and years when everyone knows that offering forgiveness and moving on would make life so much better? Why do husbands and wives keep dredging up old wounds every time they argue when they know their marriage would be stronger if they’d just let go. Why do cultures dredge up centuries old wounds, going back generations, for reasons to keep fighting each other?
Forgiveness is hard. It pushes hard against our sense of justice, ingrained in us from the beginning of creation. We know that right is right and wrong is wrong. Right gets rewarded and wrong gets punished. And when we feel like we’ve been wronged, we know that someone has to pay. When justice isn’t meted out the way we feel it should be, we feed infant grudges until they grow into giants.
Justice is a virtue, but our sense of justice is co-opted by sin. We believe that others should take the full punishment for their misdeeds, while our sins are excusable. Others have made their bed, so they must lie in it. We want to call housekeeping.
Jesus told a story about a misplaced sense of justice. A man owed his king one trillion dollars. When he couldn’t pay, the king ordered that he be sent to jail until he could raise the money. The man fell to the ground, begging the king, “Be patient with me. I will pay back the money.” The king was moved by love, so he forgave the man his entire debt.
Shortly thereafter, the man found a friend who owed him one thousand dollars. The man said to his friend, “Pay me what you owe me.”
The friend fell to the ground, “Be patient with me. I will pay back the money.” But the man threw his friend in jail until he could pay.
When the king heard the story, he demanded to see the man. He said to the man, “I forgave the debt you owed me, but you couldn't forgive the debt your friend owed you?” The king threw the man into prison until he could pay back everything he owed.
In this story, the man has a misplaced sense of justice. He deserved mercy. He should be forgiven. But his friend did not. The man thought about his friend, “That guy had it coming. He needs to learn a lesson about managing money. If I don’t teach him this lesson, who will?” It’s a misplaced sense of justice. Others deserve punishment, and I deserve forgiveness.
God’s law is the perfect antidote for this attitude. That’s why the stained-glass window shows the two tablets of the ten commandments. God’s law shows our sin by telling us what he commands us to do: Love God and love our neighbor. Every time we fail, we rack up debt.
We fail every day. Every time you lose your patience with your boss, a client, or a customer, it’s a sin. Deduct one more from your account. When we fail to keep a promise, when we are rude, or when we hurt someone out of neglect, it’s a sin. Deduct one more from our account. Each moment, each selfish thought, it deducts more from our account until we owe God more than we could ever repay.
Without full payment, each of us deserves nothing but death and hell. Paul writes in Romans 6, “For the wages of sin is death.” It’s the same for everyone, because we all inherited sin through our forefather, Adam. His first sin led all of us to sin, and through his sin, he brought death into the world. Each of us deserves that fate. Each deserves death and hell.
But Jesus has paid our debt to God. He didn’t do it with money, jewels, or gold bars, but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. His most precious blood was shed so ours wouldn’t have to be. His body was nailed to a cross so we wouldn’t face death. He gave up his life, so we could live forever. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, our debt has been paid forever.
If God has cleared us of so great a debt by sacrificing himself for us, how can we not also clear the debts of other believers? God has forgiven them. How can we withhold our forgiveness? Jesus tells us that we can’t. He doesn’t give us a choice. We have to forgive each other the same way that he forgave us.
When we forgive each other, then, we are sharing what God has already given us. Our forgiveness flows from his, empowered by the Holy Spirit. We pass on the great gift he has given us by saying, “I forgive you.”
This petition of the Lord’s Prayer asks for the strength to do that. We ask for God to empower us to forgive each other the same way we have been forgiven.
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